I wish she’d stop carrying on so, someone said.
It might have been Mary. It wasn’t Becka, something that relieved me greatly because it was the kind of thing that Becka would say, not understanding how such a comment was like telling someone you know to be suicidal where you keep the bullets locked up separate from the pistol sleeping silent in its locked metal tomb in the closet, beneath the box that holds the hip waders.
We were gathered there in the low beams of Sonny’s old pickup, one hundred and thirty-three of us. Clifford made us count off, after thanking us for coming. His voice was steady and his nose was red with the cold and he looked pretty much like always except the way the cords of his neck stood out.
It took me awhile to realize that they were doing that because he was clenching his jaw in between speaking his slow steady words, and that he was doing this in order not to cry.
The counting off somehow made it more real. Each voice speaking its name into a balloon of vapor that whisped up and away.
At number sixteen, Anna made a strange yelping sound.
At number thirty, she moaned, and we looked around at each other.
By number fifty the sky was ligthtening and Anna was saying No, and that’s when Mary spoke up, but the numbers kept marching forward and Anna got louder and louder until by number eighty four she was nearly screaming, something that sounded like Oh God and No but it was coming out all in a rush so it sounded like she was saying No God, No God, No God and I thought that the idea of no God felt about right just then because why else would we be gathered there, getting ready to do what had to be done.
By number one hundred and twenty they’d led poor Anna away, and in the quiet that followed number one hurdred and thirty three, the sun finally came all the way up and we all sort of sighed at once and took off with our brooms and rakes to push the long bearded grasses aside to see what could be concealed there.
When finally we came to the river she was there, little Katy was there, she’d been there all along, pale and cold and silent in the morning sun and mud, something her mother knew even as we gathered that morning with breath steaming like coffee, steaming like the sides of cows in the rain as we counted down that last of the hope that it could end any differently than it already had.